You Should Adopt a Code of Conduct

July 17, 2022

I've been involved with organising events for about a decade now, and recently I have focused solely on organising dance events. Ages ago I wrote a postmortem for a circus event and I think I'll do the same for dancing by the end of the year; they're useful reflections to identify things to improve.

As I've tackled the same challenges repeatedly, I realised that unless your individual goal is to remain the autocratic dictator of an event, you really need to consider the community you're building around it. It sets the tone for how people communicate, but also how people contribute in their own individual and meaningful ways.

Previously, I wrote about the anatomy of a code of conduct, where I touched on what it means to be an organiser. Very recently I updated the document and wanted to record some thoughts I had on what it means to adopt a code of conduct, both from the perspective of an organiser, as well as the perspective of someone simply attending an event.

Firstly, a code of conduct sets the values that you think are important for your community. Pretty straightforward - be friendly, don't stop being friendly, never do X, Y or Z; we'll break your kneecaps otherwise. What may be non-obvious about these guidelines is that they also push people who read it towards considering how they communicate with other people.

If your code of conduct emphasises safety and empathic consideration, it creates an environment where people are not afraid to feel vulnerable. This is applicable to dance communities as well as technical conferences; both have a wide spread of people with varying levels of confidence and experience. If someone new to the space knows that the organisers care about their wellbeing, they're not afraid to try things and possibly make mistakes.

Being "new" to a space doesn't necessarily mean new to an activity, either. I, have always remained very passionate about accessibility, and one aspect of accessibility people don't think about when running events is localisation. There is an unspoken expectation that everyone speaks English. Statistically, it's not a bad shot, but hobbies and other special interests are a common place where travelers or migrants try to connect to local communities.

If someone has come to your event, the reason they may be in your country in the first place is to learn the language. If their previous community was non-existent or didn't have organisers who felt it was important to use a code of conduct, they may not be aware such a social convention exists.

I have previously posited that a code of conduct that cannot be seen might as well not exist; I feel the same way about a code of conduct that is incomprehensible due to a language barrier. Although I have worked very hard to ensure that the code of conduct I use is written in plain language, what I consider plain is relative to my own experience and command of English.

Get someone to localise your code of conduct. It's not my place to talk about it, but localisation and translation are two different (Although closely linked) concerns.

By providing your code of conduct in localised languages, it creates one less barrier for someone to understand what your community values, which could be the deciding factor in whether or not they attend in the first place, let alone stick around. This is important to emphasise; your community does not exist in a vaccuum.

It is part of a larger society, and we live in a world where many people are marginilised.

On a few occasions, I have debated people who have dismissed the idea of adopting a code of conduct on the basis that they could handle it if someone ever tried to do something to them. While this approach could work, expecting people to advocate for and defend themselves is exhausting. In the grand scheme of things, it is a small kindness to simply let people know you will protect them.

With a code of conduct, you are not only defining what is and isn't acceptable behaviour, but also abdicating absolute control of your event. In a sense, a community becomes self-policing; everyone understands what's acceptable, what to do and what to expect if something goes awry.

The idea that a single event organiser can have omniscience in their community is absolutely ridiculous. There are as many reasons for running events as there are people doing so, and many organisers feel some sense of deep personal responsibility for their attendees. By adopting a code of conduct, you are sharing that responsibility with everyone else who cares.

You will not see everything that happens, and you will not hear everyones' thoughts or feelings about your event or the interactions they have within it. If you want your community and event to not only survive, but thrive into the future, you need to organise it in a a way that allows you to be more hands-off.

It is a struggle to befriend everyone at your event, but by using a code of conduct, you can use your position to let them know that you will protect them if anything happens. Hopefully it can serve as a cornerstone for the foundation of a community you're proud to be part of, and comfortable handing over to someone else.